EPLC Education Notebook

Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    - State House
    U.S. Department of Education
    Datebook

    The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC website at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.html.

     

    PENNSYLVANIA POLICYMAKERS

    State Senate

  • On March 22, the Senate passed the following legislation:


  • Senate Resolution 243: Directs the Joint State Government Commission (JSGC) to study the 82 school districts identified in the state’s 2007 costing-out study using its successful schools methodology to learn their best practices and other factors that contribute to their efficiency and success.  A report of the Commission’s finding is due by November 1, 2010 and would be used as the basis for future Senate deliberations on basic education funding.  In conducting the study, JSGC staff will visit 20 sample districts for direct interviews, tours and other presentations and will study the additional 62 districts through telephone interviews, internet research and possibly informational meetings or public hearings.  The study is estimated to cost $7,500.

  • On March 17, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the state’s public pension issues.  A representative from the National Conference on State Legislatures highlighted the challenges facing all 50 states in funding retirement benefits and how some states are addressing those issues.  The Keystone Research Center and the American Federation of Teachers – Pennsylvania also weighed in on the various proposals being discussed to address Pennsylvania’s pending crisis and offered their own recommendations to stabilize the pension funding situation.  Click here for testimony presented to the Committee.


  • On March 17, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on mandate waivers as part of its effort to review and reauthorize the state’s Education Empowerment Act (EEA), which is set to expire on June 30, 2010.  Under the existing EEA law, school districts may apply to PDE to waive certain requirements of the Public School Code if they can demonstrate that such a waiver improves instructional programs, student performance or school operations.  Michael Walsh, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Administration at PDE, presented testimony on the number and kinds of waivers PDE has approved or rejected.  Most school district requests for waivers are for relief from school construction and purchasing requirements.  Committee members asked why more districts do not apply for waivers for academic or instructional purposes.  The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) urged reauthorization and recommended expansion of the mandate waiver program.  Representatives from the General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania offered their support for continuing the mandate waiver provisions without imposing any new mandates on schools with regard to how they bid construction projects.  Finally, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association outlined several concerns with public notice and legal notice requirements being waived in violation of the Sunshine Act.  Click here for testimony presented to the Committee.


  • On March 16, the Senate Education Committee approved the following legislation:


  • Senate Bill 1202: Requires school districts that choose to independently contract for goods and services that are offered by its intermediate unit to post information on its web site regarding: the goods or service being purchased, the contract price and contract provider, the reason the district chose a provider other than its I.U., and the price at which comparable goods or service could be obtained from the I.U.  SB 1202 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    Senate Bill 1252: Establishes a program to help defray the cost associated with earning certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).  SB 1252 would reimburse school districts for substitute teacher fees related to teachers participating in the NBPTS and for the assessment fees for teachers seeking certification.  To be eligible for financial support, an individual must be employed full-time as a teacher or counselor in a PA public school, have three years experience as a teacher or counselor in a PA public school, hold a valid PA teaching certificate, and not have previously received, repaid or received a payment waiver for any state funds related to an NBPTS program.

    SB 1252 gives priority for funding to teachers in schools identified as needing improvement or corrective action.  Second priority would be given to early childhood educators, math or science middle or secondary level teachers, and special education or foreign language educators.

    Teachers who earn the certification must agree to serve in a Pennsylvania public school for at least three years or they will be required to repay the funds used to support their assessment fee (educators who receive priority funding must teach in a class of the same priority during the three-year period).  Additionally, teachers who do not complete the NBPTS process would be required to repay the assessment fee; if a teacher completes the process but is denied a certificate, repayment would not be required.  PDE could waive repayment under the following conditions: being unable to complete the NBPTS process or teach in a priority class/school due to the administrative action of the school district; illness; the death or catastrophic illness of an immediate family member; parental leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child; and, other extraordinary circumstances.  SB 1252 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    State House

  • The House began deliberations on the state budget last week and adopted a budget bill (House Bill 2279) that mirrors the Governor’s proposal to restore state funding for basic education to the level provided in 2008-09 by increasing basic education funding by $354 million over the 2009-2010 budget.  The proposed budget also includes $654 million of federal stimulus funds to be distributed to districts for basic subsidy, the same level of stimulus funding as in 2009-2010.  The temporary availability and use of these federal funds has allowed for a net increase in basic subsidy to districts in 2009-2010 and prospectively for 2010-2011, despite last year’s reduction in state funds for this purpose.


  • The House also passed five bills providing funding for Penn State (House Bill 2292), the University of Pittsburgh (House Bill 2293), Temple University (House Bill 2294), Lincoln University (House Bill 2295) and the University of Pennsylvania (House Bill 2296).  The budget and non-preferred higher education appropriations bills have now moved to the Senate where action is not expected until May according to a spokesperson for Senate Republicans.


  • The House also recently passed the following legislation:

    House Bill 2026: Requires school districts to develop policies related to dating violence; PDE would be required to develop a model dating violence policy to assist school districts with dating violence reporting and response.  Further, HB 2026 requires districts to provide age-appropriate dating violence education in grades 7 through 12 as part of their health curriculum.  Parents may opt to have their child excused from all or part of the dating violence education program.  Additionally, HB 2026 would require school districts to provide dating violence training to all middle and high school level administrators, teachers, nurses and mental health staff.  HB 2026 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 705: Requires school districts to establish parental involvement programs, policies and committees.  HB 705 was amended to also establish a state-level task force on school health services.  HB 705 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 349: Establishes the Older Pennsylvanian Higher Education Program and permits institutions of higher education to offer courses to students 60 years of age or older tuition free.  HB 349 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 713: Establishes the Science Technology Partnership Program and the Science Education Innovation Grants Program within PDE.  The purpose of these programs is to improve science education in schools throughout the Commonwealth.  Under the partnership program, colleges and universities would collaborate with schools and school districts to make scientific or technical equipment available to students and provide additional professional development opportunities to science teachers.  Innovation grants would reward school districts, higher education institutions and science technology educational organizations that provide innovative science or technology programs.  PDE would make programs that received these innovative science grants available to all public and nonpublic schools in the state for replication.  HB 713 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 794: Requires the Commonwealth to pay all or a portion of the cost of National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) fees on behalf of an eligible teacher to become NBPTS certified or recertified.  The state also would reimburse school districts for substitute fees for each day (up to three days) the eligible teacher participates in preparation for NBPTS certification.  Educators who teach in schools identified as being in school improvement or corrective action would be given first priority to receive funding support for NBPTS certification.  Second priority would be given to teachers of early childhood education, mathematics, science, special education or foreign language.  HB 794 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 1336: Requires school entities to develop a written policy to allow students to possess and self-administer epinephrine auto-injectors (epi-pens).  Under HB 1336 schools may require an updated prescription and parental approval for the use of epi-pens on an annual basis.  The legislation includes language that protects the school entity, school board members, administrators or employees from civil liability.  HB 1336 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 929: Allows school boards to establish a program known as “Operation Recognition” to provide high school diplomas to veterans of the Vietnam War who did not graduate because of entry into military service.  Under this proposal, high school diplomas could be awarded posthumously.  HB 929 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 1148: Requires PDE to collaborate with advisory health councils to develop and publish guidelines for managing life-threatening food allergies in schools.  The guidelines must assist school districts with understanding the scope of the problem, detailed policies and protocols to prevent allergic reaction emergencies, systemic planning and multi-disciplinary teaching approaches, staff training, parental responsibilities and emergency response protocols.  School districts may submit their food allergy management policy to PDE to be included in the clearinghouse of wellness policies and information regarding child health, nutrition and physical education.  This information would be made available on the Department’s website.  HB has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.


  • On March 25, the House Education Committee adopted the following bills (each requires further consideration by the full House):

    House Bill 467: Establishes a statewide academic scholarship program called the Reliable Educational Assistance for College Hopefuls (REACH) fund to be administered by the PA Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).  Full scholarships for the tuition of a state-owned university would be made available to high school seniors who have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher, have met attendance requirements and are in good disciplinary standing.  Eligible students attending state-related universities or private institutions of higher education would receive a scholarship equal to the average tuition at a state-owned university.  A student must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher during each semester of college to continue to be eligible for the REACH scholarship.

    House Bill 483: Exempts school districts from paying charter and cyber charter schools to educate students who are younger than the school district’s minimum age requirement for kindergarten if the district operates a kindergarten program.  If a district does not operate a kindergarten program, the bill would exempt school districts from paying charter and cyber charter schools for students who are younger than the district’s general minimum age requirement for a “beginner” student in the district.

    House Bill 2320: Requires that in order for a student to enroll in a cyber charter school, the school district in whichthe student resides must certify that the student is in compliance with attendance requirements.  Under HB 2320, if a student is truant from the school district and enrolls in a cyber charter school, the cyber charter must provide the district with evidence of the student’s first three-month enrollment and completion of assignments.  Also, the legislation authorizes cyber charter schools to initiate truancy proceedings if a student incurs three or more days of unexcused absence.  The proceedings would take place in the student’s home jurisdiction.  HB 2320 was amended to require a school entity or a nonpublic school to transfer a certified copy of a student’s attendance record whenever a student transfers to another school entity or nonpublic school within the Commonwealth.  It also would require unexcused absences to be carried forward, or “stacked”, to the transferring entity or non-public school.  In addition, cyber charters would be required to make a report to the school district attendance officer, district superintendent or the secretary of the board of school directors of the students not enrolling, withdrawing or illegally absent.

    House Bill 2328: Exempts school districts that do not transport resident students on a daily basis from any requirement to transport students who attend a charter school or regional charter school.

    House Resolution 674: Directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the status and success of states' efforts to implement School-Wide Positive Behavioral Support in their public schools, including the efforts to implement School-Wide Positive Behavioral Support in Pennsylvania, and to make specific recommendations for legislative action.


  • A week earlier, on March 17, the House Education Committee held a hearing on legislation that would affect charter and cyber charter schools.  Several of these bills are described above in action by the House on March 25. These included House Bill 483, House Bill 2320, and House Bill 2328.

    Other bills discussed at the hearing and not reviewed above were: House Bill 1362 would exempt districts from paying cyber charter schools for classes, programs or services not provided by the school district.  House Bill 2036 would exempt districts and the state from paying another cyber charter school to educate a student if the student’s home district or intermediate unit operates its own cyber charter program.  In that case, the cyber charter outside the student’s home school district may charge the student tuition to attend.

    The Committee heard reactions to these proposals from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and administrators and parents from charter and cyber charter schools.   Click here for testimony presented to the Committee.


  • On March 15, the House Transportation Committee held a public hearing on licensing of school bus drivers.  Representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania School Bus Association briefed lawmakers on existing licensing requirements, school bus safety statistics and how Pennsylvania compares to other states in terms of licensing requirements and safety issues. Additionally, the Committee heard an overview of the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010, a federal initiative to improve truck and bus safety and reduce commercial motor vehicle related crashes, injuries and fatalities.


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    U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

  • The Obama Administration has released its blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  According to the Administration, “NCLB highlighted the achievement gap and created a national conversation about student achievement.  But it also created incentives for states to lower their standards; emphasized punishing failure over rewarding success; focused on absolute scores, rather than recognizing growth and progress; and prescribed a pass-fail, one-size-fits-all series of interventions for schools that miss their goals.”  The Administration proposes to address these challenges and continue focusing on closing the achievement gap by creating a rigorous and fair accountability system that measures student growth, rewards schools that accelerate student achievement, and identifies and rewards outstanding teachers and leaders.  Click here to learn more about the Obama Administration’s plan.


  • Delaware and Tennessee were selected as the first winners in the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top (RTTT) grant competition.  In announcing the winners this week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said both had statewide buy-in for their RTTT reform strategies and had written new state laws to support their reform policies.  Delaware will receive approximately $100 million and Tennessee will receive $500 million.

    Pennsylvania previously was selected as one 16 finalists in the RTTT competition, but was not ultimately chosen as a winner in the first round.  Its application ranked 7th among the finalists.  The Commonwealth does plan to re-apply for phase two of the RTTT competition in June 2010 during which $3.4 billion will be made available in federal grant funds.  Click here for a statement from PDE about its plans to re-apply.


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    DATEBOOK

    The State Senate returns to session on April 12 and the House returns to session on April 19.

    For information on upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.


    The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC website at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.html.

    EPLC Education Notebook is published by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Permission to reprint or electronically redistribute the Notebook in whole or in part is granted provided attribution to EPLC is provided.

    The Education Policy and Leadership Center is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization. The Mission of EPLC is to encourage and support the enactment and implementation of effective state-level education policies in order to improve student learning in grades P-12, increase the effective operation of schools, and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.

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